Saturday, December 17, 2011

Addressing the Unexpected and Succeeding in 2012

The holidays are a wonderful opportunity to share quality time with family, count your blessings, reflect on the year you have had and contemplate what you hope to accomplish in the upcoming year.  A common phrase as Christmas decorations go up and holiday party invitations arrive, is "I can't believe it's already December!!"  Despite how fast time went for you, the holidays are here and the new year is just a couple weeks away.  Has 2011 brought about any major changes in your life that you didn't anticipate at this time last year?  How did you deal with these changes?  Having some skills to deal with life's unexpected situations, such as job loss, or a financial blunder, or perhaps a break up can make the situation much more manageable!  Here are some tips for learning to cope with the unexpected:

1) Take a deep breath! Taking time to breathe, collect your thoughts, and focus on the important aspects of the situation can help you to gain a clear perspective.  The key is not to panic.

2) As you relax, begin to prioritize what your next steps should be.  At this point decide on the things that need to be accomplished right away, and those that can wait.  Writing down your priorities or talking with someone you trust about your plan can also aid in gaining clarity and perspective. 

3) After carefully thinking about your given situation, begin to take action.  Sometimes unexpected situations provoke the urge to procrastinate.  Fight that urge and forge forward with your plan.  Address the most pressing issues first and this will likely help you gain motivation and momentum towards efficiently handling your next steps.  

4) This is the opportunity to become very honest with yourself.  You are human and we all deal with the unexpected.  Be honest with those you love and don't make excuses.

5) Asking for help is an essential aspect to successfully dealing with the unexpected.  Your family, friends, co-workers, or people in your network want to see you succeed and likely have suggestions, contacts, or encouraging words to help you move forward.  Think about the people that you would help out in a minute and seek them out.  If you are willing to help them...they will help you too! 

As 2012 approaches, I hope the year brings you happiness, health, and prosperity!  May the unexpected bring about exciting new adventures!  Think of the unexpected as the perfect time for new opportunities.  

If one advances confidently in the direction of one's dreams, and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. --Henry David Thoreau 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Trusting Your Gut Can Save Your Butt

Have you ever felt like the world is trying to tell you something?  Have you had things happen out of the ordinary that you feel you are destined to ponder?  Recently I have.  Given that this is a new blog and I can’t seem to find a greater purpose for what I am about to share…perhaps this is the outlet and I hope that maybe this is why the things that I am about to share happened.

Three weeks ago, on a Friday I got into my car to find that the light was on indicating one tire was low.  I had added air earlier in the week, but slowly it leaked out.  I thought it would be a quick fix at a tire shop so I headed to one after work Friday.  A nail had stuck in the tread and the man indicated I was very lucky it didn’t pop right away. The tire needed to be replaced.  The quick fix took far longer than I hoped (4 hours) and was an expense I wasn’t expecting.       
Two weeks ago, on a Friday night, I brought home a bundle of joy.  A new kitten =) As I left with my new kitten I quickly found that my car was missing from the spot that it was parked.  I had been towed.  For the first time my car had been towed…total bummer!  So my kitten and I hopped in a cab, headed to the South Side of Chicago and retrieved my car.  A $172.00 bummer! 

One week ago, on a Friday night, my fiancĂ© was in the mood for some sushi.  We headed to a local place and had a great dinner.  Before we left he went to use the restroom and came out with a puzzled look on his face.  “My keys to the car just got flushed down the toilet!” My response, “You have got to be kidding me, you aren’t serious, right?!”  We still aren’t sure how it happened, beyond a powerful flusher and pure weirdness.  But the keys were gone.  A new key is currently backordered and it could be two weeks before we see a second set of keys.

Later that weekend, I believe Sunday, we were both watching Oprah’s new show on her network, Life Class, where she shared a story about listening to what your inner voice is trying to tell you.  She was speaking to the idea that big life events (the bad ones), do not just happen.  Usually God, or whoever your higher power is, or the universe, does not just impact your life out of the blue.   She shared a story pertaining to drinking and driving.  The story went something like this:

She was headed out to meet friends for one drink.  Someone that worked in her home asked if she wanted a ride.  She declined stating that she would only be there for one drink and she knew that she would not be drunk or even anywhere close to “tipsy”.  She gathered her things and headed out to her car.  Prior to getting in, the same person was in her yard and asked if she was sure she didn’t need a ride.  HER INTUITION KICKED IN.  Something was telling her that she should accept the ride.  She trusted her gut. 

While she knew with a great degree of certainty that she would have made it to and from safely, she made the decision that she felt she was led to make.  She then flashed back to an old episode of the Oprah show where 90’s tv star Tracey Gold shared her story of being arrested for drunk driving in 2004.  Tracey had attended a family party with her three young children and her husband.  He was too drunk to drive home by the end of the day and asked her to drive the family home.  Her gut told her that she shouldn’t drive either, because over the day, she had had a couple glasses of wine and her personal rule was not to drink and drive ever.  He asked her again and she decided to turn off her little voice telling her not to do it, and she got behind the wheel of their SUV.  The truck went down an embankment and rolled three times throwing one of her sons from the vehicle.  Amazingly, the family all survived with minimum injuries.  Tracey was charged with a DUI and had to ensue a great deal of public scrutiny for something many people have done before. 

While alcohol was not involved with any of my car mishaps this month, I aligned with Oprah’s statement that often times we feel that we are okay to drive after one or two drinks.  With the holidays coming up there will be holiday parties, get togethers, celebrations, and fun.  Listen to the little voice, your gut, or whatever it is that helps you get through the day.  Do not chance your life, someone else’s life, or your reputation just to get your car home at the end of the night.  Having to deal with my car issues this month was inconvenient, expensive, and quite frankly a pain in the butt.  However, they got solved and my life was not too impacted.  I can’t know for sure why these things and events happened, but my intuition tells me perhaps it is my opportunity to tell all the people I know, and those that I don’t that you have to listen to the little voice. Sometimes we can’t know the reason things happen, but I just needed to find some use for all the things that happened to my poor car this month. 

Enjoy your time with your friends and family, enjoy some holiday cheer if that’s your thing, but make arrangements to get home safely.   And pay attention to your own inner voice!  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Clients and Courage

There is nothing quite like the moments in your career when something happens and you think, "Wow! THIS is why I do this."  As a therapist, we are making a commitment to be walk with people through their toughest times.  To be very good and effective at our job, we essentially live and relive traumas, suffering, and pain as we explore issues with our clients.  It can make for long, tiring days.  However, when a client arrives at a conclusion about their life that they have been struggling to figure out for several weeks, months, or is a gift to be sitting with them.  It is their gift to then move forward, let go, let live, and embrace.

Opening your hands sometimes and letting go (of pain, struggle, what ifs, shoulds, etc.) can be very difficult.  Each and everyone of the people that I work with exudes a certain degree of courage!  I admire that greatly!

Alfred Adler encouraged individuals to have the courage to be imperfect.  Find comfort in living your imperfect world!  Letting go of the need to be one way or another allows for creativity and enlightenment.

Is there anything holding you back from something?  What do you admire about the people you work with?  I admire the courage.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Visual Picture of a Long Term Goal

So the journey to becoming a Clinical Psychologist is quite a long one.  During my 2nd year, a mentor of mine stated very frankly, "Just keep jumping. There are going to be alot of hoops to jump, but keep jumping."  I've been jumping for along time now.  A friend of mine, who has been jumping along with me, sent this to me to help put our long term goal into perspective.  No matter what your long term goals are, approach them with courage, determination, and humor.  Just when you think you have made it, you will likely look forward to the next set of hoops and challenges required to attain your next goal in life.  Never lose sight of the bigger picture.  Live life to the fullest and be present in the moment.

Imagine a circle that contains all of human knowledge
By the time you finish elementary school, you know a little:

By the time you finish high school, you know a bit more:

With a bachelor's degree, you gain a specialty:

A master's degree deepens that specialty:

Reading research papers takes you to the edge of human knowledge:

Once you're at the boundary, you focus:

You push at the boundary for a few years:

Until one day, the boundary gives way:

And, that dent you've made is called a Ph.D/Psy.D.:

So, don't forget the bigger picture:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Managing Back to School

Happy Back to School and beginning of Fall.  It's the time of school supplies, cooler weather, beautiful leaves, college football, and adjusting from Summer to Fall schedules.  As parents may know, the morning school routine runs best for everyone when schedule stay consistent.  Whether it's summer or winter, our kids should have the same amount of sleep each night and they should go to bed and get up at relatively the same times.  

With the beginning of the school year, there is excitement and parents are often committed to helping their child have the best year they can.  When our children have good days, parents and teachers have good days.  Here are some tips to help everyone find success during the new school year:

1) Establish bedtime routines for everyone!  We all need certain amounts of sleep.  School age children (Between the ages of 4 and 12) need at least 10 hours of sleep a night.  Therefore, if your child has to be up for Elementary or Middle school at 6:00am, they need to be in bed and sleeping by about 8:00pm.  As your adolescent enters high school they still need 8 to 9 hours to function at their greatest potential.  

2) Even though kids may put up a fight about going to bed, "that early" those brains are working hard throughout the day and when tv time, ipods, and video games are taken out of the bedtime routine, they actually have time to relax and feel ready to sleep.  Electronics and bright lights activate everyones brains.  Therefore, the best thing to do before bed is head into your dark bedroom, climb into bed, and just close your eyes.  If anything, reading can calm or tire the eyes so this can be a great time for parents and kids to read a short story.  

3) Create a homework routine.  Depending on your child, it may be best for them to complete homework shortly after returning from school after a snack.  Or, they may want to have an hour of play time to exert some pent up energy.  However, instilling in your child that homework is a responsibility and it should be done before other privileges.  Once homework is complete, pack up backpacks and keep them close to the door each night.  This will cut down of phone calls to parents at home or work stating something has been forgotten. 

4) As a family, discuss your upcoming weekly schedule over the weekend.  When everyone knows what is coming up that week, it cuts down on confusion and helps everyone plan their time wisely.  With many activities going on at this time of the year, a family dinner may not be possible every night.  Discussing which nights it will be possible, will help family members to know when that important family time will take place.  

5)  Communicate constantly!  Parents and children should have open communication whether your child is 5 or 17.  By establishing open communication early, children can feel comfortable turning to their parents when they are feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or if they are struggling with their peers.  

This is a wonderful time of year, that is fast paced and filled with fun.  It is also a time to teach our children the importance of education, structure, responsibility, and time management.  Support your child, enjoy time together as a family, and have a wonderful school year! 

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Calm of Summer

While I haven’t posted in a couple weeks, I have to blame it on my mind being in different places mixed with alittle procrastination.  I am currently working on my doctoral dissertation.  I am finally in the data collection portion and recently received the data that will be allowing me to focus on writing the results portion.  Anyways, though my school schedule and client load is low, I’ve been trying to figure out how to allow myself to relax and feel rejuvenated to start my internship with a burst of energy in the fall! 
This yearning for energy and relaxation can be something students, parents, teachers, etc. seek as the summer seems to be flying by.  Before it comes to a halt we hope to feel “ready” for yet another academic year (or long winter for those of you in offices and other jobs). 
Each summer my family gets together for a weekend at a cottage on the Muskegon River.  This is typically a weekend filled with nothing but family, fun, and laugher.  Our first day it was about 95 degrees and 7 of us decided to go tubing (lazy river style) down the River.  We rented inflated truck tires that served as our tubes, tied our tires together with twine, and plopped into the middle of our makeshift raft.  We were warned that some of the water was very shallow and to be careful of large, hard to spot rocks.  Both warnings made me think, “Humm, that could hurt!”  However, we trusted we would be able to spot the “Party Crashers” (rocks) and that when the water was shallow we could lift our bums.  Off we floated.  Tied together.  Avoiding Party Crashers. 

As we floated down this beautiful path, there were so many things to take in.  I was so very thankful for the opportunity to be surrounded by loved ones doing something that made it entirely possible to forget about stressors, concerns, and data.  At one point we passed under a bridge, and as we looked up a young man was standing on the edge playing a Sax.  It was beautiful.  Not only was the flow of the water calming, but now we had live music that we could hear long after we passed the bridge.  It was a simple reminder that even when we feel that relaxation is nowhere in our future, past experiences can allow for relaxation.  We can close our eyes, focus on something beautiful that we might not be able to see presently, but that we can imagine or feel based on our past experiences. 
It is important to stay present throughout each moment of your life.   At one point my Aunt asked, “You alright Megan?  You are quiet.”  I’m not known for being super quiet, but really, I was just soaking in the moments.  I wanted to make sure that when I was feeling stressed out and busy again, I would be able to slow life down a bit, remember my relaxed state of mind, and then continue moving forward. 
Take some time to think about a time when you were feeling incredibly relaxed and at peace.   Envision the way it looked.  What colors jumped out?  What could you feel?  What could you hear?  Where there any smells that helped make you feel comforted?  Use your senses to take you back to that place and time when you are feeling tense, stressed, and in need of relaxation.   
We hit a couple Party Crashers throughout the float, however, they caused more laughter than pain and the trip was totally worth it!  I wish you peace, relaxation, and safe travels as we move through these dog days of summer!  

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Proud To Be American

With the 4th of July weekend behind us, I'd like to take these patriotic times to remember our military families.  Often times it seems that we, Americans, become complacent with our patriotism when we believe things in our country are "calm".  It is easy to forget our soldiers overseas when it seems like things in our country are safe.  The attack on American soil on September 11, 2001 brought many Americans to tears, their knees to pray, and it seemed like many more American flags were flying high and proud.

Please remember, we are still at war.  Our American men and women in the armed forces continue to fight in Iraq, Afghanistan, and many other countries around the world.  While we enjoy BBQs and family get togethers, there are military families in this great country that sit hopefully waiting for phone calls from their loved ones overseas.  It is my personal belief that one of the reasons non military families can easily forget the military families is due to the lack of complaining on the part of the military family.  Sleepless nights waiting and worrying, minimal paychecks, and many unknowns, often times are never heard because the wife that experiences all these things, knows, her husband has it much worse and never says a word (it may also be a husband thinking of his deployed wife).  Additionally, there are millions of military children that face the stress of having parents deployed.

So, in honor of this Fourth of July holiday, take some time to reflect on our freedoms and how you can support the troops.

  • When you see an elderly person with an embroidered hat proudly stating VETERAN, simply say, "Thank you for your service."  A quick, genuine "Thank you" goes a long way and is often times greatly appreciated.   
  • If you know of a military family in your community, offer to send a care package while their service person is deployed.  For $12.95 you can fill a box a full as possible and send it to any soldier overseas.  
  • Even if you do not know a military family, reach out to a local VFW and inquire about you can support our troops. 
  • One of my favorite organizations for mental health professionals to become involved in is Give An Hour. This is a non-profit organization that provides free mental health services to US military members and their families.  Mental health professionals can easily become providers associated with this wonderful organization and donate an hour of their time, or more, to a service member in need of services.  
These simple suggestions can make a huge difference in the lives of many people.  What does the Fourth of July mean to you?  Have you ever thanked a soldier?  

Please remember our soldiers and veterans!  They have stood up for what is right and just.  They have allowed us all, to feel proud of our land of the free and home of the brave!  

Thursday, June 23, 2011

For A Good Laugh

Sometimes you just need a good laugh.  I have been pretty busy lately and haven't been able to sit down to write a well articulated post.  So instead, this week, I want to share another bloggers work because it had me laughing so hard (though, trying to do it quietly at my desk at work...which we all know can be very difficult and make your co-workers stop to question, "What the heck is wrong with her").  I would highly suggest checking out The Bloggess when you need a laugh and/or need to lift your spirits.  This is what had me LOLing in the office today (Victor is her husband):

Blog entry titled: Psychiatrists are not to be trusted
June 14, 2011

Conversation with Victor after I came home from my appointment with my shrink.
Victor:  So what’d your doctor say?
me:  The usual.  Still crazy.
Victor:  Well, at least you’re stable.
me:  She gave me something to kill the insomnia.  Ro-something?  I can’t remember what it’s called but it’s supposed to just knock you out completely.
Victor:  Rohypnol? Your doctor gave you roofies?
me:  I’m pretty sure my doctor didn’t give me the date rape drug.  It just sounds like rohypnol.  Wait, hang on.   There’s an actual warning on this pamphlet that you have to be careful to not accidentally have sex in your sleep.
Victor:  Your doctor gave you roofies.  Generic roofies.
me:  Wow.  I probably should have tipped her.
PS.  I took the drug and it was not roofies.  Or I’m immune to roofies.  One of those.  But, in brighter news I’m getting a lot accomplished due to not sleeping.  Like, I’m really good at drawing dinosaurs now.  And at making water-beds for cats.  And at involuntary hallucinations and forgetting where I live.
PPS.  It occurrs to me that if you don’t have insomnia you probably missed the day when I live-tweeted  my hour-long attempt at making water beds for cats, so I’m going to reprint it all here.  Because the cats and I shouldn’t be the only ones to suffer.
  • I’ve decided to use all this extra insomnia time to make a waterbed, using only ziploc bags & a cardboard box.

  • It’s going to be awesome. Also, Victor really should stop leaving me at home unsupervised.

  • The waterbed isn’t for me. It’s for the cats. These cats have never even SEEN a waterbed. They’re gonna be ecstatic.

  • I’m going to need some duct tape. And a mop. And some…cat mittens.

  • Hang on. I can totally *make* cat mittens out of duct tape. THESE PROBLEMS ARE SOLVING THEMSELVES.

  • I’m not going to wrap duct tape around the cat’s paws, y’all. That’s inhumane. I’m going to put condoms on them first. Calm down, PETA.

  • I meant that I’m putting condoms on the cats’ feet before I duct-tape them. Not that I’m making them wear condoms for birth control.

  • My cats never use birth control. I think they’re Catholic.

  • No, no, no. Cat mittens are mittens made FOR cats. Kitten mittens are mittens made OF cats. Cats who died of natural causes, probably.

  • My kid just wandered in to see me forcibly balancing a deeply unappreciative Ferris Mewler on a quart-sized ziploc bag.

  • I don’t even know how to explain this. I just told her to go back to bed. She may never sleep again.

  • This is exactly why we need to find a cure for insomnia. Because it hurts EVERYONE.

  • Also, I’m bleeding and the cat is pissed. Duct tape makes terrible shoes for cats.

I hope you laughed and this finds you smiling for the rest of the day!   

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Connection Mural

With the summer months upon us, school is wrapping up.  As a therapist, I have offered therapeutic services in school settings with grades kindergarten through eighth.  Given the nature of training programs, often times a graduate student will enter into a school in September, build relationships over the year, and then move on to a totally new location and training site the following year.  One of my favorite ways to conclude services with children is to make what I like to call the “Connection Mural.”  The kids may come up with their own name for it, but essentially, it is a great way to work together on something the child can take home with them at the conclusion of their last session. 
What you need:
  • Blank paper  (Depending on the amount of time you have or the age of the child, you can make it as big or small as you see fit. 8 ½ x 11 paper or poster board)
  • Crayons, colored pencils, markers
  • Any other art supplies you want (glitter glue, magazine cutouts, etc)
  • Allow the child to outline your hand, and then outline theirs, so that the fingers cross on the paper
  • Each of you can decorate the inside of your hands
  • On the outside of the hands write inspirational words or phases; topics you spoke about throughout the year; goals or hopes for the future
  • Sign your names (like the artists that you are) and date it!
  • Encourage your child to hang their mural in a place where they will see it daily and be able to remember all the things you spoke about throughout the year.  This is your opportunity to show them that despite the end of your therapeutic relationship, they are still important and should feel inspired.
Each mural will be unique and beautiful in different ways.  Make sure that if you share the work with anyone outside the therapy room, you will need to attain permission from their parents. 
This project would be wonderful for teachers to use at the end of the year as well!  This is an awesome way for the kids to remain connected to their teacher or therapist; and also a way to feel motivated and cared for.  I find that this is a great tool for grades kindergarten through eighth.
*The picture is just an example and not the work of an actual client.  The creativity of the murals I have done in session have been absolutely amazing!  They turn into real works of art.  Have fun with this one, while knowing it will mean a lot to the child. 

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Moving Process - Stay Stress Free

There is something about the moving process that makes me think of different personality styles.  There are those that love to keep it new and interesting, seeking out a new place to live every time their lease is up.  Those individuals may be the adventurous types that love the challenge and excitement of trying new things.  Then there are the people that find something they like and stick with it.  These individuals may find security and contentment in routine and stability.  There are also the individuals that find a town/home/community and make the financial and emotional commitment of purchasing a home.  Since moving to a city, most of my friends are renters.  In my home town, many of my friends and family plant roots in the community and invest in their home.  Both styles of living are unique and come with pros and cons.  

I came to think about the moving process as I stood in line at the UHaul rental store (Yes...I drove a UHaul truck in the city!) and was mesmerized by the large number of individuals waiting in line with us at 7:00am on a Wednesday.  Some people looked bright eyed and bushy tailed ready for the day; others looked like they had stayed up all night throwing their belongings in boxes for yet another move.  I think I fell somewhere in the middle with a positive attitude, but a "Let's get this show on the road" mentality.  On a side note, I was rather annoyed by the middle aged man who stood 2 people in front of us in line,  then proceeded to take up time trying to return 2 unused moving boxes.  When the lady said he needed the receipt he then tried to exchange the unused medium boxes for small boxes.  Patience were running low by many of the line waiters for this poor guy! 

Anyways, I digress...June apparently is a VERY popular month for Chicago movers and the personalities of the movers I observed were vast.  Here are a couple tips for reducing stress during the moving process for all personality types:
  • Give yourself plenty of time to pack.  Do a little everyday or week for up to eight weeks prior to the move.  Having to do it all the week or day before will do nothing but cause stress and chaos. 
  • Keep yourself organized.  Clearly label boxes with contents, or at least which room the contents belong in. 
  • Purge clutter.  Don't pack up the clothes you "might wear again."  Now is the time to donate your belongings/furniture that you no longer wear or use.  No need to travel with things that will continue to be stored away and re-forgotten about.  If you are getting new furniture, donate the old stuff.  Some places will even come and pick up your unwanted belongings.
  • Ask for help.  Friends will typically be willing to help because they too, at some point, will need help.  Favor for a favor, when it comes to moving, is just fine.  Don't feel bad asking!  Thank your friends by getting coffee and donuts the morning of the move, and buy pizza/sandwiches/beer later in the day.  Having friends around can make the move as fun as a move can be!
  • Rest up.  The night before a move don't try and stay up all night finishing things up.  Feeling fresh and rested will make the entire day run more smoothly.  
  • Be flexible.  If an item gets broken or the rental truck keys magically disappear don't freak out.  Take a couple deep breaths, realize that it's not the end of the world, and then reassess.  Accidents happen and there is nothing that can be fixed by getting all bent out of shape. 
  • Have fun.  It's better to find things throughout the day to laugh at, take a break when you are sick of the unpacking process, and just know that when it's all over with, you will be able to explore your new neighborhood!
If you are moving, try to stay stress free by following these tips.  If you are not, but know a friend or family member that is, ask if they need help. 
*ADDED MOVING BONUS* The moving process is a great need to hit the gym that day!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Beat BAD Weather Blues

Living in the Midwest can be extremely difficult when we have Springs that feel more like late Fall and Summers that seem like they just may never arrive.   As Chicagoans, we seem to endure the long, hard, windy Winters just to enjoy the fabulousness of Summer festivals, baseball games, walks along the water, and time on at the beach.   As we wake up to another 40 degree day with spitting rain and wind that blows your hair all over the place, I am reminded that this can NOT last forever…right?!

When the weather has you feeling depressed there are some things that you can do to lift your spirits.   One of the most beneficial things you can do for your mind and body is just take a walk.   The exciting news is that you don’t have be an exercise freak working out every day for hours and hours…alittle bit can make a big difference in the way you feel.   A 10 minute brisk walk can surprisingly relieve some symptoms of depression and anxiety right away.   Psychologists studying exercise and mental health found that it was not the intensity of the workout that impacted one’s wellbeing.   A 10 minute walk was compared to a 45 minute workout.   Results indicated the walker felt less tense and energized right away, while the person that worked out felt tension lifted, it took a longer time for them to feel their burst of energy.

Challenge yourself to make your mental health and wellbeing a priority.  Take a walk everyday and use the time to reflect on the positive things in your life.   Maybe it is raining and 45 degrees, but what are the blessings that make you smile and feel thankful?
So, lift those spirits, get up and walk!  If you decide to do it outside on one of these colder days, it will likely make you appreciate the warmer ones to come so much more!  

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

I'm blogging for Mental Health...

Today the American Psychological Association is encouraging Mental Health professionals to write about an aspect of mental health that is important to them.  

Reducing the stigma associated with receiving mental health services is something I am passionate about.  According to the National Institutes on Mental Health,  1 in 4 Americans are suffering from some sort of mental health issue, those suffering should not have to worry about what others will think if they seek out help. 

There are many things that can be done to help reduces stigma and help someone that may greatly benefit from seeking services.  
  • Educate yourself about someones symptoms, illness, and potential side effects of treatment.  Local Mental Health America affiliates, Psychology Today, the library, and the internet can be excellent resources to health about mental illness, finding a therapist, and the vast treatment options available.
  • Receiving a diagnosis may cause your family member or friend to feel a wide range of emotions (shame, anger, fear, etc.), it is important to recognize these feelings.  A diagnosis can bring some relief, however, some may feel devastated by the diagnosis creating more intense feelings of stress.  
  • Listen carefully to your loved one and express your understanding of what they are going through back to them.  Never discount someones feelings.
  • Encourage your loved one to ask questions during their appointments with their treatment team and be an active member in their therapy.  The more knowledge they have about the treatment and services the greater potential for recovery.   
  • Though therapy can cause significant relief, in some cases, adding medication to the treatment plan is warranted.  Encourage your family member or friend to take time to find the proper medication and dose with their medical provider.  It can take 3 to 6 weeks before there is some symptom relief with certain types of medication.  It is important to support your loved one through those difficult side effects in order to identify whether the medication will be useful to their treatment. 
  • Medication is not a cure for mental illness.  Social support, increasing self esteem, and feeling confident that one is contributing to the well-being of society are essential to the recovery process. 
  • Be respectful of your loved one's need and right for privacy.  People struggling with mental illness should be treated with dignity and respect. (Adapted from information from Mental Health America)
The take home message of today is to support your loved ones if they are struggling with a mental health issue.  Support can come in many forms and having an open conversation with your family member or friend about what will be most supportive to them can make a huge difference.  There is nothing shameful about seeking help and services for mental health issues!  

Monday, May 16, 2011

Curious about therapy?

Whether  you know someone that is currently seeking out a therapist or you have always wondered about it and considered seeking therapy yourself, often there are many questions.  Something I learned early in training is that you can never assume that your client knows what therapy really is.  Media paints a picture of an older person (usually a older, white male) sitting in a chair behind a distressed person who is laying on a couch free associating.  While this Freudian picture may still exist, it is very uncommon in today’s therapeutic offices. 

Often times there will be a couch, or two chairs, but in most offices today, the client and the therapist will face each other.  The goal is to feel comfortable.  Emotions (anxiety, sadness, fear, etc) during your first sessions can be slightly eased just by feeling comfortable in the therapy room.  However, there will be certain actions that must be taken to find the therapist that is right for you or someone you know. Depending on what you are looking for in therapy and in a therapist, there are some very important questions you will want to ask as you Shop* for a therapist.

*I say Shop because you are looking for a service provider and you want your needs to match with what they provide.  Searching for a therapist could take several phone calls, referrals, and will require asking questions.

Some of the things you may want to ask as you Shop may be:
What kind of treatment do you usually use (What is your theoretical orientation)?
What are your areas of specialty?
What are your fees?
How long do you expect my treatments to last?
Do you have a sliding scale rate or offer a payment plan?
What types of insurance do you accept?
When do you typically hold sessions? Mornings, Weekdays, Evening, Weekends?
Do you have a website or blog with more information?

And any other questions you are curious about; don’t be shy! 
(Don’t be afraid to do some of your own research.  The American Psychological Association (APA) has more information about all of these topics and can be reached toll free at 1-800-964-2000 or visit their online Consumer Help Center at

During the initial session there are a few points that a therapist will typically cover right away.  The therapist will collect information in an initial clinical interview and then as your therapy begins speak to these points:

An open discussion about maintaining confidentiality, as well as the limits of confidentiality.  It is important to talk with the client about when the limits of confidentiality may no longer apply, such as if the client is in imminent danger of hurting themselves, someone else, or there have been reports of child or elder abuse.  This is a very important subject that will vary based on the needs of the individual client.  Psychologists will follow the American Psychological Associations Code of Ethics  to make sure the client’s best interest is always at the forefront.  A Master’s level clinician follows the Ethical Guidelines of the American Counseling Association  however, the conversations with clients will be similar.

Informed Consent  
         Informs the client that in most situations their personal information will not be shared with an outside source without their written permission.  Additional information about informed consent will be outlined in the Ethical Guideline links above.
        What the First Few Sessions Will Look Like 
         Given that many different life circumstances bring clients to a therapist, it is important to share with them what therapy will be like.  Typically sessions are 50 minutes (known as a therapeutic hour).  The first few sessions will be spent “building rapport,” which basically means, getting to know one another.  Successful therapy is not likely to happen unless the client learns to trust their therapist, and the therapist can help to facilitate this by being genuine, respectful, and empathetic. 
       What Sessions After the First Few Sessions Will Look Like 
         After some initial rapport is built and the client is beginning to feel more comfortable with the therapeutic relationship and expectations sessions will be focused on some sort of symptom relief and goal setting.  The therapist’s theoretical orientation will ultimately guide how sessions move.  For example, if a therapist’s theoretical orientation is Cognitive Behavioral (CBT) then goal setting will likely take place in the first or second session as this is a very goal and behavior driven, short-term therapy.  If a therapist’s theoretical orientation is Psychodynamic or Psychoanalytic, this therapy is traditionally more long-term and much more time in the beginning can be devoted to rapport building and self exploration.  

      Reading recommendation for people interested in therapy and the therapeutic process:

How Psychotherapy Really Works: How It Works When It Works and Why Sometimes It Doesn’t
By  Willard Gaylin, MD